Art curator Jan Hoet dies in hospital in Ghent
Flanders’ most famous art curator, Jan Hoet, has died in a hospital in Ghent at the age of 77
Founder of SMAK museum known as Flanders’ “pope of art”
Hoet (pictured) was a flamboyant and charismatic figure who shook up the local art world time and again. He became the director of Ghent’s contemporary art museum in the 1970s and made headlines when, in the summer of 1986, he invited 51 artists to exhibit works in private homes in the city. He went on to successfully lead the move of the museum into its current landmark site at Citadelpark and give it its name, the Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst, or SMAK. He opened the new site in 1999 with a boxing match.
“Jan Hoet was driven by art,” said Flemish culture minister Joke Schauvliege. His greatest achievement was to “help to tear down the walls of contemporary art”.
Hoet was born in Leuven and studied art in Ghent but eventually decided that he wasn’t a good enough painter to pursue it as a career. He studied art history instead and went on to devote his life to advising art organisations and staging exhibitions.
Together with SMAK, which he led until 2003, Hoet also had a very active international career, including curating Documenta IX in Kassel in 1992 and serving as the artistic director of the MARTa Herford contemporary art museum in Germany for five years. In 2012, Hoet organised the Yinchuan Biennale in northern central China and last year the Middle Gate exhibition in Geel, Antwerp province, where he spent most of his childhood.
Hoet, who is regularly referred to in the Flemish press as the “pope of art”, once told an interviewer: “I don’t know what art is. The art itself has to tell us what it is, not me. I can only sell the ticket to the discovery tour.”
Hoet had suffered from several health problems over the last couple of years, including kidney cancer and two heart attacks. Based on advice from his doctor, he was taking time off from organising an exhibition at the coast at the time of his death.
“Today we have lost a man that was not only passionate about art but also told us about it in a most inimitable and compelling manner,” said minister-president Kris Peeters this morning in the Flemish Parliament. “He has inspired innumerable Flemings to take an interest in art.”
The city of Ghent is preparing a memorial book for the public to sign. It will be in SMAK museum for a week beginning at 14.00 tomorrow.